It Seems People Can Always Find a Way to Divide Themselves
I have to admit, I’m kind of a sucker for books about teachers, and Tisha is a special book. Most of the time, the narrative is pretty similar: a young woman chooses to leave home and go somewhere completely different from her home, usually somewhere remote. Usually the woman is at or near the beginning of her teaching career. She has to figure out how to do her job and contend with the locals, whose ideas are usually much different from hers.
I suppose it’s one of the few socially acceptable ways that women could leave their homes on their own without getting married.
For some people, it’s a temporary stage of life, and for some people, the move becomes permanent.
At first glance, Tisha appears to follow that trajectory, but really this book is more about ethnic prejudice than education. Ann Hobbs Purdy is a young teacher (or “tisha”, as the children call her), but she has enough experience to know what she’s doing. It’s not about her learning to teach. She’s also teaching fewer than 10 students. Their education is important, but Purdy doesn’t struggle to teach them.
The issues that give Ann trouble revolve around her acceptance of the local native population. First, she admits some to school, then she starts dating a local biracial man, and eventually she takes some biracial children into her home.
When the locals balk, she tells them that her grandmother was a member of the Kentuck native nation, but since she doesn’t look like a native, and of course she’s the teacher, her neighbors choose to ignore this information. The whole thing, of course, reveals just how irrational prejudice is.
The events in this book, which happened nearly 100 years ago, show the absurdity of ethnic prejudice and the use of the word “race”, issues that we are still fighting about in 2021.
Tisha is a relatively short, engaging read that shares the reality of racial prejudice on the Alaskan frontier. In large part it’s a love story, but there is a surprising amount of adventure too. Surviving in the wilds of Alaska was no joke, even for a teacher in a “town.”
The Real Ann Hobbs Purdy
Tisha was written by a ghostwriter, but Ann Hobbs Purdy did publish some articles during her life. She also wrote a novella based on a fellow teacher she knew in Alaska called Dark Boundary.
Thank you to Dianne Bourg, reader of The Lois Level, for suggesting I Heard the Owl Call My Name. This book is about a vicar who comes to a remote mythical village in the Pacific Northwest.
More Great Reads
For more great books about teachers, check out 6 Favorite Books About Wonderful Teachers
Visiting Chicken, Alaska
Chicken, Alaska is the setting for this book, and amazingly, people still mine gold there! Because of Tisha and the popular reality show, Gold Rush!, Chicken is also a quirky tourist destination.
Even more astounding, the school and “teacherage” where Ann Hobbs Purdy lived and work is still standing. Most of the other structures described in the book are too and is now a designated historic area.
You can read more about it in this article from The Atlantic: The Alaskan Town Where People Still Pan for Gold and check out this travel video below.